I first discovered The Homeschool Experiment when I stopped by Katherine Grubb's 10 Minute Writer blog one day, and I saw she'd interviewed Hawkins and was giving away a copy of her novel. I didn't win; but after I commented on the post, Hawkins contacted me personally and offered to send me a signed review copy--so actually, I guess I was a winner. And this led to a book exchange between us, which has happened a few other times with other authors. [Before I continue here, let me just say that in the less than two years I've been a published author, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and support of fellow authors (like Charity Hawkins) who are out there in the trenches, fighting to get good Christian literature on bookshelves that are so often filled with less-than-noble modern works.]
Okay, I'm off my soap box now, so let's move on to Hawkins' book--which I believe is a "must read." Once you start it, you won't want to put it down.
In The Homeschool Experiment, Hawkins handles both the sublime and the silly aspects of life in a household with three small children with humor and affection, and her sweet novel will be especially entertaining for those of you who are homeschooling your young'uns--but you really don't even have to be a homeschooler to enjoy the author's lovable heroine, Julianne Miller, or her often hilarious take on young mommyhood. The book is told in the first person, so the lucky reader gets inside Julianne's head--which is a treat. The passage about her trip to the Salvation Army thrift store with her kids in tow is so hilarious (in a cringe-worthy sort of way, because if you've ever been a mother to small children, you'll probably be thinking, "Been there!"), that one scene alone is worth the price of the book. Just about any mother in the throes of raising little people--whether she's taken on the daunting task of educating them herself or not--will be able to relate to the blessed chaos this harried stay-at-home mom deals with on a daily basis.
And here's the bonus: this book is unabashedly Christian in theme and content, and the main character is very much focused on God's will for her family throughout the story. Even though one chapter begins with the lament, "Drat. Double drat. It looks like God wants me to homeschool. How did this happen?", Julianne perseveres--because for Julianne and her husband, John, the answer appears to be homeschooling. But the author is careful to stress that although homeschooling is right for this fictional couple, it might not be right for everyone, and that ultimately, parents have to assess their unique situations to determine how to best educate their children. You will find plenty of encouragement in this book, and even some homeschooling tips; what you won't find is judgment. And you will also see a mother who turns often to God with the kind of silent entreaties I used to make when dealing with a toddler temper tantrum or the like: Lord, help me. Truly, Julianne is one of the most relatable characters I've ever come across in fiction.
My husband and I only homeschooled the youngest of our five sons, and we only homeschooled him for five years (from grades 4 through 8), so I don't know what it would be like to juggle the needs of a first-grader, a pre-schooler, and a toddler all at once, the way Julianne has to do. But I can completely relate to dealing with the often rude questions posed by well-meaning friends and even close family members. Just as Julianne must suffer her mother-in-law's thinly veiled disapproval of homeschooling, I had to field questions like, "Don't you worry about socialization?" and "Do you feel there will be some gaps in your son's education?" Even though homeschooling has come a long way in the past few decades, there is still a bit of a stigma attached to it, and Hawkins deals with that aspect of the experience with honesty and plenty of her trademark humor.
That's probably what I enjoyed most about this book--the humorous voice of the author. Julianne is a master of self-deprecation, and she is harder on herself than any critic could ever be. One of the chapters begins with this sentence: "I am a terrible mother." Who among us hasn't felt that way at one time or another? I also enjoyed the way the author describes the relationship between Julianne and her ever-supportive husband (a sainted individual who reminds me a bit of the man I married). It is obvious that theirs is a strong Christian union, one filled with deep love and understanding. And Hawkins is also a master at describing the personality traits of Julianne's young children, particularly her endearing but sometimes exasperating six-year-old son: ''I hate to stifle his creativity, but he comes up with complicated and physically voluminous ideas at an astonishing rate. It wears me out. In the car the other day, out of the blue, it was, 'Mom, I'm gonna need some big bricks.'" Now that's stellar writing, if you ask me. Although this is a novel, the situations and conversations ring absolutely true to real life.
Charity Hawkins has written a novel that conveys the beauty to be found in the homeschooling life, when parents choose it so that their children will learn "truth and virtue, perseverance and character, to love God and to follow Him wherever He may lead. Those are the most important things." Amen to that.
Now head on over to everyone's favorite on-line book club for more reading recommendations.